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Opinion

The West Bengal polls and the possible role of defections

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On December 19, Interior Minister Amit Shah inducted a number of political leaders from the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC), left-wing parties and the West Bengal Congress into the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The most prominent of them is Suvendu Adhikari, who was a minister in the current West Bengal government and comes from a politically influential family in the East Midnapore district. Adhikari, who has been a deputy from Lok Sabha in the past, was elected as the AITC MLA of Nandigram, a place that is associated with the fight against land acquisition that ultimately brought the end of the 34-year-old Left Front government in 2011. – in the 2016 election. In states where it is a challenger, the BJP has traditionally used defections to its advantage. Here are four charts that explain this strategy and the possible rotation it will bring to state politics.

To capture West Bengal, the BJP must win South Bengal

Among the largest and most populous states in the country, West Bengal has a very diverse landscape. The state can be divided into five parts. The foothills and hills region comprising the districts of Darjeeling, Cooch Behar and Jalpaiguri is a separate sub-region. Then there are the northern districts of Maldah and the northern and southern districts of Dinajpur. Murshidabad and Birbhum, which are in the central region of the state, constitute the third. The three districts of WestMidnapore, Purulia and Bankura are an extension of the Chotanagpur plateau and are known as Jangalmahal. However, the largest sub-region of the state is what is popularly known as South Bengal. This includes the greater Calcutta region. As South Bengal is also the most densely populated region in the state, it holds the key to power. An HT analysis using the Trivedi Center for Political Data (TCPD) shows that the eight districts of South Bengal out of a total of 19 in this region, account for 57% of the Assembly Electoral (AC) districts across the state. .

Even in 2019, the BJP failed to break through South Bengal

The BJP stunned the AITC by winning 18 of the 42 constituencies of Lok Sabha in the 2019 elections in West Bengal. A breakout as far as AC puts the BJP and AITC count at 121 and 164 respectively. The midway mark in the West Bengal assembly is 147. While the BJP’s gains in the state between 2014 and 2019 have been stellar, the AITC has been able to contain it in South and Central Bengal, traditionally strongholds of the latter. 67 of the 121 BC segments that the BJP won in the 2019 Lok Sabha came from 94 BC in the hills, North Bengal and the Jangalmahal sub-regions. Out of 33 and 167 BC in central and southern Bengal, the BJP could only win 6 and 48. The AITC, on the other hand, won 119 of 167 BC in South Bengal even in the 2019 elections. clinging to South Bengal will increase the chances that the AITC will remain in power.

The tailwinds for the BJP to usurp the left’s base of support may be exhausted

West Bengal politics since 2014 has been a story of increasing polarization. With the Left Front led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) continually losing ground to the AITC in election after election, the BJP began to position itself as the main opposition party in the state. This was evident even before the 2019 Lok Sabha election results (https://bit.ly/3nCLHRs)

The rise of the BJP in West Bengal can be divided into two phases. In the 2014 elections, he significantly increased his percentage of votes, mainly at the expense of the left. In 2019, it consolidated these gains and also made inroads into the AITC vote bank. Although the AITC had an advantage in terms of overall vote participation, it was significantly behind the BJP in the sub-regions of the hills, North Bengal and Jangalmahal. If one were to assume that what is left of the left in West Bengal is its ideologically committed central voter base, who will not do business with the BJP, then the only way for the BJP to improve its performance, especially in South Bengal, is break with a part of the Hindu voters of the AITC. Leaders like Suvendu Adhikari are the best way to accomplish this task.

This strategy could unleash enormous community polarization in the state.

West Bengal has the highest proportion of Muslim population in India after Jammu and Kashmir and Assam. According to the 2011 census, Muslims represented 27% of the state’s population. The Muslim population is not evenly distributed in the state. While there are very few Muslims in the hill regions and Jangalmahal, they are present in large numbers in the north, south and central Bengal. The two Muslim-majority districts, Murshidabad (66% of the Muslim population) and Maldah (51%), are located in the central and northern regions of Bengal, respectively. Almost half (49.9%) of the population of Uttar Dinajpur in North Bengal is also Muslim. The peak Muslim population in any other district in the state is just 37%.

This also means that AITC’s current dominance in South and Central Bengal is based on the support of both Muslims and Hindus. As the BJP attempts to alienate the Hindu faction from the AITC support base, even as Muslims gravitate toward the AITC in greater numbers, CSDS-Lokniti post-poll survey data shows that this process was already underway. underway in West Bengal, the state could experience unprecedented community polarization, including violence. While political violence is a characteristic feature of the state, it has not taken on a communal color in the past.

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